Marty Kauchak, Halldale Media Group Editor, attended the 2 Dec. Navy Flag Officer Panel Discussion and filed this report.

Not for Training Only

One of the recurring themes from this conference continues to be the bringing to bear of M&S capabilities for use cases beyond training – throughout the entire military enterprise. Indeed, James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition), issued the clarion call to delegates to better allow his service to still use M&S and enabling capabilities, including artificial intelligence, Big Data, data analytics and others, to help his service train more quickly and efficiently. “But they also have to allow us to be more fluid – build and design equipment, test tactics and such. These will help us drive down affordability.” In one challenge to industry, the senior Navy official called on companies to continue to bring existing, proven technology opportunities to the sea service. In one proven use case, the ASN called attention to the service’s successes to aggressively increase readiness ratings of its F/A-18 fleet. He added, “We used commercial best practices from the civil aviation sector to better maintain these aircraft.”

Big Data, Again

Rear Admiral Greg N. Harris Director, Air Warfare, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N98), initially emphasized that live training events, in particular the type the US Navy’s aviation community completes on and in vicinity of Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, are expensive, but remain vital in aviators’ continuum of learning. The senior Navy officer then focused on the imperative to increasingly use Big Data and data analytics to bolster training – in the virtual training domain. Harris noted the opportunity to gain data from key training events, such as those on the Fallon ranges, “and break it down, to strengthen real skill sets for aviation, stick-and-throttle skills, button pushing and others, and work on these skill sets in low-fidelity devices, to directly train to problems in the virtual world.” And beyond training to problems, Harris also noted opportunities to better allow aviators to refresh skill sets and learn new skills throughout their career, for instance, in the case of a mid-grade officer departing a staff- or land-based assignment for one in the fleet. “The data is all out there,” he declared. The OPNAV director also called on industry to continue to bring its good ideas to the service to help improve training. One sector on his short list of contributors to Navy aviation training was the commercial gaming industry. While also Harris noted the critical role of the Fallon ranges complex in allowing F-35C/4th generation aircraft mission integration, he concluded by issuing the call migrate learning and associated technologies into the service’s maintenance enterprise.

Project Avenger and Navy Flight Training Transformation

Rear Adm. Robert D. Westendorff, Chief of Naval Air Training, managed expectations for his remarks early on, when he emphasized his command is doing nothing less than transforming aviation training, “so we’re no longer training the way we have been for the last 40 years.” He noted and reemphasized that beyond producing more capable aviators, his command is helping create and deliver more capable warfighters – “who must manage a system of systems in air combat”. To point, he called attention to his command’s Project Avenger, an “experiment” which is in phase I and will graduate its first students in early 2021. Upon successful completion of Phase II, the service plans to further modernize all advanced aviation pipelines based on the Avenger model. Technology is key to Avenger Phase I, as students have personal learning devices and use VR goggles to immerse themselves in purpose-built, rudimentary training devices. The command leader further said, contracts have been awarded for Avenger Phase II, with training devices being built to permit more rigorous training. Indeed, Westendorff said Phase II students will be immersed in mixed reality environments, “wearing VR goggles as they complete training in a tactile-based simulator.” The service’s expected returns on investment in Project Avenger are of note, as it primarily seeks to prepare warfighters for the “high-end fight”. And while the service is also interested in reducing the length of the accession pipeline for prospective aviators, a lower-tier, but undoubtedly appreciated, outcome, is lowering training costs. Of added significance, the Navy is not going it alone on this journey, as it is collaborating with US Air Force on its Pilot Training Next program.